In the first edition of her brand new blog, our City West correspondent visits the photography exhibition in front of Amerika Haus and wonders where the real West Berliners are.
Apparently, West Berlin is undergoing a process of re-invention. New hotels, new galleries – paid for with the kind of money that also finances 300sqm flats off Ku’damm.
You might be forgiven for assuming that fat cat lawyers and bored Russian housewives form a significant part of this process if you take a look at an open-air photography exhibition outside the Amerika Haus premises on Hardenbergstraße off Bahnhof Zoo.
The whole thing is part of the renovation schedule put in place by C/O Berlin before they reopen in Amerika Haus next year. They’re relocating to the West, from Mitte, and seem keen to make a statement. So here are photos from 13 Ostkreuz Agency photographers: the champagne glass brigade alongside de rigueur homeless dossing down around Bahnhof Zoo, some building site romanticism (another new hotel) next to sepia shots of empty interiors and black and white photos of old-school West Berlin institutions like the KaDeWe oyster bar … a triage of daily life within one square kilometre around the new premises.
The West Berlin street in which I live is just outside that cordon, but there are many like it within and my question is: where are the regulars? People who shop at Kaisers and Reichelt, buy Straßenfeger from the familiar Rumanian on their way out, pick up dog shit without griping, tend tiny communal front gardens, spend meager pensions on vet bills, have each other’s emergency keys, etc., etc..
When we decided to live in West Berlin about 10 years ago, this kind of self-evident, non statement-making normality was part of the attraction. The kids smoking joints on Olivaer Platz? They’re just hanging out – not whining about plans to have the square re-landscaped. Sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar.
Sure, we miss the old KaDeWe with its ground-floor woolly scarves and hat section. It’s mainly Hermès scarves now, and the assistants all speak fluent Russian. There’s also a lot of Russian spoken at the old people’s home on our street. Even rich Russians have grannies, sitting outside in wheelchairs. We exchange language-challenged greetings with them: part of the process assimilating cliché and reality. It’s ongoing, not the costive kind of self-stylisation that you might find elsewhere in Berlin.
In the meantime, I’m popping out for a coffee at the Havelbäcker and a Thürman Brötchen. And although I haven’t started buying lotto tickets yet from the newspaper shop on the corner, I’m not ruling anything out.